Geneva: The head of the World Trade Organization expressed cautious optimism on Sunday as the World Trade Ministers gathered to tackle food security threatened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, overfishing and fair access to the Covid vaccine. ..

“The roads are bumpy and rocky, and there may be some mines along the way,” Ngozi Okonjoiwarera admitted hours before the WTO held its ministerial meeting for the first time in nearly five years.

However, she told journalists that she was “carefully optimistic about getting one or two deliverables,” and added that she would consider it a “success.”

At the first ministerial meeting in years, the WTO faces pressure to finally conclude a long-awaited trade deal and show unity amid an ever-increasing pandemic and an imminent global hunger crisis. ..

The most important issue at the start of the four-day conference is the Russian war in Ukraine, where the breadbasket, which traditionally feeds hundreds of millions of people, depends on food security.

EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said the block “worked hard with all members to prepare a multilateral food security package” and “used food and grain as weapons of war.” Blame Russia.

The WTO hopes to continue its criticisms of Russia’s war in Ukraine until the first day of talks, where many of the more than 100 ministers scheduled to attend are expected to make a ferocious statement.

However, as many have categorically refused to negotiate directly with Moscow, there is concern that this could bleed the next day when the WTO wants to focus on concluding an elusive trade deal.

“There is a real risk that things may go wrong next week,” said a Geneva-based diplomatic source.

– Is fishing right in front of you? – –

Tensions have not suppressed Okonjoi Wara’s enthusiasm for consensus on various issues at the first ministerial meeting. In particular, the World Trade Organization seeks to prove its value almost 10 years later, without a new large-scale trade agreement.

After more than 20 years of negotiations, there is cautious optimism that countries can finally agree to ban subsidies that contribute to illegal and unregulated fishing.

The WTO has stated that negotiations have never been so close to the finish line, but diplomats are still cautious.

Negotiations “have progressed recently, but these are still difficult subjects,” a Geneva diplomatic source told AFP.

One of the main issues is the so-called Special Discrimination Treatment (SDT) for developing countries such as India, which is a major fishing country that can require exemptions.

The draft sent to the Minister for review suggests that tax exemptions should not be applied to member states that occupy an undefined share of the world’s catch.

The tax exemption period also remains undefined.

Environmental groups say that anything over a decade is devastating. India requires a 25-year tax exemption.

– India “Creating a Problem” –

“25 years is an unreasonable period,” Isabel Jarrett, head of the Pew Charitable Trust’s project to abolish harmful fisheries subsidies, told AFP that a great deal of room was “destroyed by fish stocks.” I warned that it was “target”.

Colombian ambassador Santiago Wills, who chairs the WTO’s fisheries subsidy negotiations, emphasized the urgency of securing deals.

“The longer we wait, the more fish we lose, and the more fish we lose, the more we all lose,” he said in a statement on Saturday.

However, India seems to be stubbornly sticking to demands in the fishing industry and other areas, and the WTO agreement requires the support of a full agreement, jeopardizing the possibility of reaching a deal.

“There is no problem that India has not hindered,” said the Geneva-based ambassador, citing WTO reform and agriculture.

“Indians are still causing problems,” said a source with knowledge of negotiations for a text on food security.

Elvir Fabry, a senior researcher at the Jacques Delors Institute, said India seemed keen to “throw more weight” at international organizations and warned that New Delhi could break the deal.

– Patent abandonment? – –

Ministers will also seek a joint WTO response to the pandemic, albeit with significant obstacles remaining.

In October 2020, India and South Africa called for the suspension of intellectual property rights to the Covid-19 vaccine and other pandemic responses to ensure more equitable access in poor countries.

After many consultations, the European Union, the United States, India and South Africa came up with a compromise, which became the basis for the draft text to be sent to ministers.

Although not China, the text that allows most developing countries to produce Covid vaccines without the permission of the patentee still faces opposition from both sides.

The UK and Switzerland, along with the pharmaceutical industry, are reluctant to apply, claiming that the exemption undermines investment in innovation.

Public interest groups, meanwhile, say that by covering only vaccines and not Covid’s treatments and diagnoses, the text is far below what is needed.

“Negotiations are still far from ensuring access to life-saving Covid medical tools, wherever they are,” Doctors Without Borders warned.

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